By Glenn Miller
After more than 15 years helping to grow the Brownies into Canada’s premier awards program for remediation and renewal in brownfields redevelopment, the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) is thrilled to pass responsibility for the Brownies to long-time partners Actual Media and the Canadian Brownfields Network.
“The idea for the Brownies came up during lunch at our first-ever brownfields conference in 1999,” recalls Glenn Miller, long-time staffer with CUI. “We had turned a graphic used for our brochure into little statues, which we handed out to the conference presenters. Bob Onyschuk (a sponsor and conference chair) called me up on stage to ask what these statues were called. ‘Brownies’ was the spontaneous reply. Then Todd Latham (who at the time was working with AboutRemediation.com) pointed out that the nascent brownfields industry needed something inspire people to constantly raise the bar. That led to a collaborative vision for what became the Brownie Awards.”
The evolution of the Brownies to an awards program that represents excellence in renewal, regeneration and reinvestment through creative city building owes a debt to many individuals and organizations.
For the first decade, the principal sponsor for the Brownies was CMHC, led by CMHC’s then president, Dino Chiesa, who took great pleasure in engaging with the winners as they came up to receive their award. On one occasion, he was asked when CMHC was going to provide mortgage loan insurance to brownfield projects. He famously took out a notebook to record his commitment to take up the idea with his staff, and returned the following year to announce that a pilot program had been launched.
Another important attribute of the Brownie Awards is that criteria for the awards evolve to keep pace with the growing maturity of the industry itself. This is due in large part to the role played by the eight individuals on the jury, who collectively represent the diverse range of professional and practical experience required to make brownfields redevelopment a reality.
“The different perspectives and candid viewpoints expressed during the jury deliberations are an important part of what makes the awards process so vibrant,” says Glenn Miller. “The jury members not only provide continuity from year to year but are also able to reflect the ever-expanding knowledge base of consultants to the industry and their influence on developers and municipalities. The capacity building role of organizations like CBN and FCM is key.”
The reputation of the Brownies ramped up quickly following their formal launch in 2000, and the program has consistently attracted quality nominations from across the country. “We know from the feedback we get that the desire to have one of Hamilton artist Floyd Elzinga’s hefty hand-crafted awards on display in your corporation’s boardroom is a motivating factor to excel,” says Miller. “But it could also have something to do with the opportunity to get roasted by Todd Latham from the podium!”
After more than 20 years in charge of CUI’s research and seminars, Glenn Miller is now a senior associate with CUI. He can be reached at email@example.com.